Commuter Cars — to the Max
If you think your everyday ride is dull, check out these extreme daily drivers.
Driving dynamics, horsepower, torque, acceleration, braking ability and aerodynamics — these are the things that determine a vehicle's overall performance, and the things auto enthusiasts consider when choosing a car. But a car's peak performance isn't often set in stone at the factory. Plenty of extra performance can be pulled out by those with the know-how once a vehicle leaves a dealer's lot. And while there's a whole industry dedicated to making supercars more, well, super, we like to focus on some of the more extreme versions of cars you see on the road every day. Consequently, here are some truly extreme commuters.
Honda Mugen CR-Z
Despite its sleek sports-car-like sheet metal, the CR-Z's 122 horsepower from its stock gas-electric hybrid powertrain puts the compact hatchback squarely in the "running errands around town" category. Thankfully, Mugen Euro, the continental counterpart to Honda's official in-house Japanese tuning unit, has tweaked the CR-Z's go-fast parts to match the exterior styling. The 14-horsepower electric motor remains untouched, but by strapping a centrifugal supercharger to the small-displacement gas engine, Mugen has pulled the number of ponies up to a respectable 200. They've also cut some serious weight with carbon-fiber doors and hood, lightweight wheels, Recaro bucket seats up front and no backseat at all. The modifications help push the once-sluggish CR-Z to a respectable 6.6-second zero-to-60-mph sprint time.
Chrysler 300 Mopar ‘12
Unlike some other cars on this list, no extra boost is added to Mopar's 75th-anniversary special-edition 300, but then again, the 300 starts with prodigious power from its 363-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 engine. Mopar did revise the gearing for faster acceleration throughout the speedometer, and added a sports-tuned suspension and heftier brakes to handle the extra oomph. The result: The 300's zero-to-60-mph time drops to about five seconds (from around six). And with attractive aesthetic touches — including a blacked-out exterior with a chrome grille and blue pin-striping, tinted headlights, carbon-fiber trim, Katzkin leather seats and 20-inch wheels — Chrysler's high-performance division did a proper job making the 300 Mopar '12 suitably intimidating.
Cobb Ford Focus
Cobb Tuning took Ford's popular global Focus compact and gave it a ground-up transformation as part of the Blue Oval's 2011 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) campaign. Cobb adds a 6-speed manual transmission from the MAZDASPEED3 and a Cusco limited-slip differential, while the stock, direct-injection 2.0-liter inline-4 engine gets Pectel engine management, a BorgWarner turbocharger, a front-mounted intercooler and a turbo-back exhaust with a tubular exhaust header, all from Cobb. Cobb also adds the requisite carbon-fiber bits — splitter, diffuser, side skirts, vented extractor hood — and more race-specification parts that can be listed here. Cobb's Focus SE is about as far from Ford's everyday driver as can be, and that's what we love about it.
Hennessey Cadillac Escalade 1,001 HP
Hennessey Performance is well known for adding ridiculous power to whatever it gets its hands on. A case in point is this insane, 1,000-horsepower Cadillac Escalade. Cadillac's high-end people-hauler is the beneficiary of a twin-turbo 427 cubic-inch LSX engine, high-flow cylinder heads and catalytic converters, electronic boost control, and stainless-steel cat-back exhaust, among myriad other upgrades. The end result — besides the ability to beat a stock Nissan GT-R in a drag race — is a zero-to-60-mph sprint time of just 3.3 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 11.3 seconds at 124 mph. All that is from an SUV that tips the scales at more than 6,000 pounds.
Hamann Fiat 500
German tuning house Hamann Motorsport recently tackled the Fiat 500 Abarth with a host of upgrades. But considering that the Abarth is essentially a tuned version of the base 500, we're more interested in what Hamann did with the stock 500 to create the Largo edition for the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, when the tiny Italian compact was new to the United States. And what they did was impressive, upping the regular 500's maximum 135 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque to a whopping 265 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of twist from a turbocharged 1.4-liter mill. Add a sport suspension, high-performance brakes and a 4-pipe sport exhaust and you have a vehicle that will smoke Fiat's own performance model.
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